Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Why?

Several years ago, we asked friends and family coming to our house for the holiday to each focus on a particular section of the Passover Seder. Seder means "Order" in Hebrew, and at Passover, Jews tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt at a Seder, using a Haggadah, a book that means "Telling," and that has a certain order to it. One of the sections of the Haggadah is called Maggid, loosely translated as the Story. In other words, it's the narrative.

So, my friend brings this question about the Maggid section:
This is the Story part of the Haggadah, but there is no story here--at least, no story about the Exodus. Instead, there is a description of four kinds of children (wise, wicked, simple, and one who doesn't know how to ask)--and a suggestion as to how to answer their questions.
There are songs and activities.
There is a place where the youngest person at the table asks four questions about the Seder's symbols.
There are obscure references to historical occurrences that on the surface don't seem to have anything to do with the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

Why is there no story in the Story?
Is this really the Socratic Method? Depending on who you talk to, the Socratic Method means slightly different things, all involving questions and answers. Rick Garlikov describes the Socratic Method as "Teaching by Asking Instead of Telling." According to Wikipedia,
The Socratic method (also known as method of elenchus, Socratic irony, or Socratic debate), named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.[1]
No, this is not the Socratic method. But the Seder uses outstanding educational techniques--requiring interaction between members of the group; hands-on activities; thought-provoking questions; and even some performance (traditionally, the youngest person in the room masters and chants four questions). And the result? The seder is probably the most observed Jewish practice in the world.

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Pedagogy of the Oppressed is the most well-known book of Paolo Freire, and it is a book that, I confess, I have not been able to read all the way through (dense!)--but the essence is this:
In the book Freire calls traditional pedagogy the "banking model" because it treats the student as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge, like a piggybank. However, he argues for pedagogy to treat the learner as a co-creator of knowledge. (Wikipedia)
[Note: Freire is referring to "traditional pedagogy" as the pedagogy common in Europe and the Americas in the 1800s and 1900s.]

Ultimately, the Haggadah is at least a thousand years old in one form or another, and the story of the Exodus from Egypt is even older. Since it is a story of slaves throwing off the shackles of slavery, so I will close with a few quotes from Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
"Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future."
"The greatest humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves..." 
 "… Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle…" 
"No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are."  
"Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other." 

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